Chargers’ injury list grows, especially at receiver, with Seattle coming to town
The Chargers did something Monday they had never done since Justin Herbert became their starting quarterback in Week 2 of the 2020 season.
They won a game when their offense was limited to fewer than 300 yards.
The Chargers had been 0-4 on such occasions, losing by an aggregate score of 135-47.
Against Denver this week, they survived for a 19-16 overtime victory on a night offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi characterized as “a slog.” The Chargers totaled only 297 yards despite running 83 plays and converting 11 third downs.
“I wish we would have scored more points,” Lombardi said Thursday. “…I think it’s rare that you get that many plays, when you don’t feel like you’re moving the ball.”
Chargers’ prize free-agent acquisition J.C. Jackson was benched for his poor play against Denver last week, but coach Brandon Staley says the corner will continue as a starter.
The Chargers had five series that lasted nine plays or more but just one of them resulted in a touchdown. Three ended with field goals and one with a failed fourth-down attempt.
They finished one of four in the red zone, continuing a trend that has become troublesome. The Chargers are 24th in the NFL inside the opposition’s 20-yard line, scoring touchdowns 48% of the time.
Last season, they finished fifth overall with a success rate of 64%.
“I’d say it needs improving,” Lombardi said. “We’re getting down there a lot, but we need to come away with touchdowns. A lot of that comes down to running the ball a little bit better and executing some of the plays better, having a better plan, everything. Not as good as we want.”
All of the recent offensive issues could be magnified Sunday when the Chargers play Seattle at SoFi Stadium with a roster further compromised by injury.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen remains limited in practice because of a hamstring problem that has kept him out since the second quarter of the season opener.
Center Corey Linsley has been limited this week, too, as he rebounds from a bout of food poisoning that knocked him out of the game against the Broncos.
Right tackle Trey Pipkins III is playing through a left knee ligament sprain that impacted his effectiveness Monday.
Running back Joshua Kelley also has a sprained knee ligament and has been unable to practice.
Wide receiver Joshua Palmer and tight end Donald Parham Jr. both remain in concussion protocol after being hurt against Denver.
The Chargers already were without left tackle Rashawn Slater, who is on the injured reserve list because of a torn biceps.
The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners in NFL Week 7. The New York Giants and Jets will keep rolling, and the Chargers will win.
And then there’s Herbert, who has been removed from the team’s official injury report this week but still is managing fractured rib cartilage..
“We don’t make too much of it because that’s just the way the NFL is,” coach Brandon Staley said. “That’s what I tell the guys. … There’s a lot that happens and you have to be ready for it. It’s just part of the job description.”
On the plus side, tight end Gerald Everett returned to practice Thursday after missing a day because of an illness.
Still, Herbert and the Chargers are staring at the possibility of meeting the Seahawks with Mike Williams as their lone bona fide starting-type wide receiver.
The Chargers also have veteran DeAndre Carter, who was signed as a free agent mostly to be their kick returner.
Beyond that, there are the likes of Jason Moore (five career receptions) and Michael Bandy (three-time practice squad call up in 2022).
Rams and Chargers fans are itching for trades and an update on quarterback Justin Herbert’s health. And is there a shortage of good offensive linemen?
Also on the practice squad are John Hightower, 10 career receptions; Joe Reed, 27 career offensive snaps, and Keelan Doss, one NFL game since the 2019 season.
If this offense were a puzzle, the first challenge would be finding all the pieces.
“You’re always sitting there in the film room trying to get that perfect mix of making sure you are giving yourself a chance for explosive plays,” Lombardi said, “but also protecting the quarterback and being able to move the ball.”
In Williams, the Chargers have a highlight-waiting-to-happen but also a player looking to make his own comeback. Against Denver, Williams caught only two passes for 17 yards.
So, what will the Chargers do Sunday to make up for what’s missing? Expect even more of running back Austin Ekeler, who Herbert targeted 16 times against the Broncos en route to Ekeler getting 24 touches, matching the second-highest single-game total of his career.
Although the Chargers again gave up some big plays in the first half against Denver, the unit’s second-half domination helped win the game in overtime.
There certainly will be plenty of plays designed for Williams, who was taken out of the game Monday by cornerback Pat Surtain II and, Lombardi explained, the Chargers’ play calls not matching well with what Denver had called on defense.
Everett figures to be more involved, out of necessity if nothing else, and the Chargers might need a play of two from a less celebrated source — Bandy? Running back Sony Michel? Tight end Tre’ McKitty?
“You’re just always trying to put guys in a position to help them do their best,” Lombardi said. “And that formula changes as you get new players in there.”
Finding the formula against the Seahawks could be the trickiest challenge yet for Lombardi.
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